An executive order prohibiting some forms of LGBT workplace discrimination signed by President Barack Obama earlier this week is under fire from social conservatives who have labeled it an assault on religious liberty.
On Monday, Obama signed a long-sought executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The order also protects transgender federal employees from discrimination.
In a series of statements, leaders from some of the nation’s largest conservative organizations blasted the executive order for not including a religious exemption, which some faith leaders had pushed for.
Labeling Obama’s executive order as disregarding federal contractors’ religious and moral convictions, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said the order gives “special treatment to homosexuals, transgenders, and cross-dressers in the workplace.”
“The President’s refusal to completely exempt religious businesses from this executive order betrays his true agenda — forcing his own conformist views upon everyone else, and making America less free in the process,” Perkins wrote in a newsletter to supporters. According to Perkins, Obama’s executive order strips away contractors’ ability to set dress and grooming standards for their employers.
“This action is wrong on the merits, because it accepts the premise that distinctions based on actual conduct — such as homosexual behavior and cross-dressing — should be treated the same way as distinctions based on immutable and innocuous characteristics like race,” Perkins continued.
Bryan Fisher of the American Family Association took to Twitter, claiming Obama’s executive order “elevates sexual deviancy, sexual disorders and sexual confusion above the First Amendment” and sends a message to “every Christian-run business in America: drop dead. It’s faith or funding.”
According to Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, Obama’s executive order could also “become a weapon used to punish and harass individuals and groups who support marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”
“As with the flawed ENDA (Employee Non-Discrimination Act) legislation that was rejected by Congress, President Obama’s order has the great potential of putting employers in the position of standing up for their faith values or violating the new order,” Brown said in a statement, incorrectly identifying the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and falsely claiming ENDA has been rejected by Congress as that bill awaits a vote in the House of Representatives after being approved 64-32 by the Senate in November. “This is nothing more than an agenda to create a cultural narrative wherein the belief in marriage as the union of one man and one woman becomes the legal and social equivalent of bigotry or hate speech,” Brown continued.
While Brown called on Congress to overturn Obama’s executive order, echoing calls from the Heritage Foundation’s Ryan T. Anderson to pass federal legislation that would prohibit the government from discriminating against those who believe marriage is between a man and a woman, Republican members of Congress have been largely silent in response to Obama’s actions.
In a statement issued prior to Obama’s signing of the executive order, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who voted for ENDA, voiced concerns over reports that no religious exemption would be included in the order.
“In seeking to curtail unjust discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, we must ensure that legal protections do not trample upon basic religious liberties,” Hatch said. “That’s why I worked with Republicans and Democrats to include a religious exemption and non-retaliation provision in the bipartisan Employment Non-Discrimination Act that passed the Senate.”
Executive Order 13672 signed by Obama amends Executive Order 11246, which prohibits federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin and was first issued by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, to include sexual orientation and gender identity. It also amends Executive Order 11478, which prohibits discrimination against federal employees on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability and age and was originally issued by President Richard Nixon in 1969, to also include gender identity. That executive order was previously amended by President Bill Clinton in 1998 to include sexual orientation. Although the Obama administration previously interpreted existing law to cover transgender federal employees, the order ensures federal employees will now be formally and explicitly protected from discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Due to an executive order signed by President George W. Bush in 2002, religiously affiliated federal contractors are allowed to favor individuals of the same faith in their hiring practices.
“You can use religion to only hire people who share your religion, but you can’t discriminate against someone who is of your faith who happens to be LGBT, unless they fall within the ministerial exception,” a senior administration official told reporters last week. “We believe that this order both protects the LGBT workers and respects the interests of religious entities that serve as federal contractors.”